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November 28, 2012

Hill’s clutch shot pushes Pacers past Lakers

LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant is often at his most dangerous when he’s fighting the flu, and the ailing superstar carried the Los Angeles Lakers to the brink of yet another under-the-weather win.

One dramatic shot by George Hill left the Indiana Pacers feeling a whole lot healthier.

Hill’s high-arching shot banked in over Dwight Howard with 0.1 seconds left, and the Pacers withstood Bryant’s 40-point performance and the Lakers’ last-minute rally for a 79-77 victory over Los Angeles on Tuesday night.

Hill scored 19 points for the Pacers, who benefited enormously from the Lakers’ 23-for-43 performance at the free throw line. Indiana led for most of the night, but couldn’t put it away until Hill took charge on a pick-and-roll play with David West, dribbling past Pau Gasol and delicately lofting the ball over the shot-blocking Howard.

“It’s something you always dream about, to hit game-winners,” Hill said. “So to do that and help this team win a game just makes it that much better.”

Coughing and wheezing on the court and in the locker room, Bryant still hit a tying 3-pointer with 24.5 seconds left and produced the 114th 40-point game of his career.

“It was just a tough game for us, because we didn’t make shots,” Bryant said. “On top of that, we didn’t make free throws. I’ve got to minimize my mistakes. Ten turnovers is way too many for me, so I have to work on perfecting that and bringing that down. I just felt like I played to the crowd too much.”

The Lakers dropped to 2-3 under new coach Mike D’Antoni. They mostly played the way Bryant felt, flirting with the lowest-scoring game and worst shooting percentage in franchise history before finishing with 31.6 percent shooting and surpassing the club low of 70 points in a game with eight consecutive points in the waning minutes.

Los Angeles tied it at 74 on Howard’s dunk with 1:56 to play. After West made one free throw, Howard and Metta World Peace combined to miss four straight free throws. After Hill made a running shot, Bryant hit a 3-pointer in front of the Lakers’ bench to tie it — but Hill dribbled down the clock and won it for Indiana.

“I’m a little bit proud of the guys, the way they fought and had a chance to win, which defies statistical logic,” D’Antoni said. “That was not nice. That was tough.”

The Pacers’ sturdy defense stifled the Lakers’ up-tempo offense for most of the night, turning the game into an ugly grind before the thrilling finish. Indiana won its third straight road game over the Lakers after losing its first 11 regular-season meetings after Staples Center opened in 1999.

West scored 16 points and Paul George had 12 in the opener of a four-game road trip for the Pacers, who had lost six of eight away from home to start the season.

“We need road wins to build our togetherness, our belief in ourselves and our new identity, and to build confidence,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. “This is a big one, and one that we were looking for.”

Before outscoring the rest of his team combined, Bryant missed the Lakers’ morning shootaround when he fell ill. He spent the day in bed, drinking fluids and listening to Bob Marley, before giving another high-scoring performance, albeit with 10 turnovers and 12-for-28 shooting.

Howard blocked four shots and scored 17 points despite 3-of-12 shooting at the free throw line.

“It shouldn’t have got to that point,” Howard said. “It’s been a tough stretch for us early in the season. We can’t lose our faith. We’ll find a rhythm and we’ll get in a groove, but we can’t let what we’re going through get us down right now.”

The Lakers returned from a three-game trip for a three-game homestand, their final multigame stretch at home before Christmas. After playing six games in a nine-day stretch earlier this month, the Lakers are clearly running near empty — and they had little to give in the first half against Indiana.

The Pacers jumped to an early lead and hung onto it despite falling into a 1-for-23 shooting slump in the first half, playing more than 12 minutes with just one field goal. The Lakers couldn’t take advantage, missing 14 of their 18 shots in the second quarter and repeatedly failing to move the ball at D’Antoni’s preferred pace.

Bryant made five of his first six shots, but fell into a 1-for-10 slump before getting rolling again late in the third quarter while Los Angeles made a 13-2 run. Bryant had nine turnovers in the first three quarters, but also had 29 points — more than his teammates’ combined 28.

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